The mockumentary-style tv comedy series Parks and Recreation, according to Wikipedia, is “an American comedy on the NBC television network, starring Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, a perky, mid-level bureaucrat in the parks department of Pawnee, a fictional town in Indiana”. According to IMDB, the series relates the “absurd antics of an Indiana town’s public officials as they pursue sundry projects to make their city a better place”. In Ireland, at least one season has been shown RTÉ Two; and in the UK, three seasons have been shown on BBC4. Alert: so, for Irish and UK readers of the blog who are fans of the show (and the Daily Edge recently gave 7 reasons why we should be), the remainder of this post is a great big spoiler.
At the end of series 6, Pawnee thinks they’ve struck gold when Gryzzl, an internet company marketing itself as “the cloud for your cloud”, sets up in town. But, in the farewell series 7, all is not well between Leslie and Gryzzl.
… Gryzzl, a comically exaggerated Frankenstein of the Facebooks, Googles and Amazons of the world, … battles with Leslie over a parcel of local land where she wants to create a national park and the company wants to build a corporate campus.
Leslie finally thinks she’s found a way to win that battle when residents get freaked out by the drone delivery of hyper-personalized gifts — specially chosen for them by Gryzzl based on algorithms that search through the contents of the their private text messages and e-mails. … [So, she] and her husband, Ben, take their case to the court of public opinion. No, seriously, they go on a court-themed local TV show. There, Ben argues that what the company is doing with Pawnee citizens’ private data may not technically be illegal, “but it’s definitely not chill” …
The internet is no longer optional; it’s a necessity for everyone. And I think that you do know that data-mining isn’t chill because you stuck it into the 27th update of a 500-page user agreement. A person should not have to have an advanced law degree to avoid being taken advantage of by a multibillion-dollar company. You should be upfront about what you’re doing and allow people the ability to opt out.
There’s more detail of Pawnee’s privacy fight against Gryzzl in Vulture.com’s recap of the same episode. Leslie and Ben get a private tour of Gryzzl’s headquraters (pictured above left) from Roscoe Santangelo, Vice-president of Cool New Shizz at Gryzzl:
“As you know,” Roscoe tells them, “the cameras on your phone are always on, whether you’re using them or not. This app uses facial-recognition software to track your mood.” … Roscoe describes Gryzzl’s 1984-style operating system, which reads emails, texts, medical records, and can even let the ladies know “when you need to buy some new ‘pons.” … Roscoe doesn’t see what the problem is. “We just want to learn everything about everyone and track them everywhere they go and track everything that they do.” …
Although Gryzzl is obviously being played for laughs, Vulture’s reference to its “1984-style operating system”, the Post‘s reference to its “Frankenstein” nature (and – elsewhere in the review – to Gryzzl as a “digital panopticon“), and Time’s characterisation of the company as “techno-douchebags“, demonstrate that the show is consciously locating Gryzzl in the same space as the eponymous company in Dave Egger’s The Circle. Matt Weinberger goes further and makes a real-world comparison Computerworld:
Privacy now is all about control
… We already know that privacy is the new killer app, and that events like last year’s iCloud hack and the Target data breach are turning security from a nice-to-have to a major competitive differentiator.
There’s another shift happening, too: Facebook, it is generally accepted, will never stop data mining the heck out of its users, because it makes a lot of money, and companies that make a lot of money tend to like the idea of continuing to make a lot of money. Users, who like the benefits and connections that Facebook brings to their lives, aren’t going anywhere, no matter how exploitative the means. The same goes for Google and basically any other “free” service on the Internet. Or look at Uber, which got into trouble recently for being straight-up creepy and pretty threatening towards women thanks to all the data it scrapes — but that same data is a valuable source for civic planners. It’s a give-and-take.
Creepiness is just a fact of life for people living the plugged-in lifestyle circa 2015.
We already have a word for when the military/security state goes bad: it’s “dystopian”. But we don’t really have a word for when the industrial/corporate society goes bad. “Creepiness” just doesn’t cut the mustard; it’s too weak. By parity of reasoning with “dystopian”, I suggest that we should describe such companies as “dysagurian”: if a “dystopia” is a “frightening (or evil) state” (from “dys” meaning “bad”, and “topos” meaning “place”), then a “dysaguria” is “frightening (or evil) company” (from “dys” meaning “bad”, and “aguris” meaning “crowd” or “group”).
Hence, in my view, “dysaguria” is the perfect noun and “dysagurian” is the perfect adjective to describe Gryzzl. I have already described Egger’s fictional the Circle on this blog as “dysagurian”. It will be fun to see where the Parks and Recreation storyline goes with it in the seventh and final season. And, while we are being entertained, we must also not lose sight of the nightmare of industrial/corporate tyranny which it lampoons.